Thursday, 1 June 2017

Westminster Mile 2017

The Westminster Mile has become a bit of a family tradition and the 2017 event was fifth year of the event and the fourth that I had taken part in. As I had in the previous few years I entered the race via Sweatshop and ran in one of their waves.

The event takes place on the late May bank holiday weekend and uses the same set up as the London 10000 event which takes place on the Bank Holiday Monday. Last year (2016) I ran in both events, but for this year I had a bit of a dodgy ankle and decided to just stick with the 1 mile event.

I wasn't feeling particularly racy, so I set myself the goal of running an even pace and aimed to come in a smidgen under 6 minutes. If I was going for a full-on race I would have ditched the Sweatshop Running Community t-shirt that I was wearing and opted for a singlet instead. These days I find that during races even a short-sleeved tech t-shirt makes me overheat.

So I had registered myself, my wife and my daughter, and we arrived in good time to wander around the event village where my daughter had her face painted in the kids zone. There are always loads of activities going on in Green Park and worth spending some time checking it all out.

We had been put into Sweatshop Running Community's first wave which had a 12 noon start time. At about half eleven I started to warm up with a jog around Green Park and I then made my way to the start on The Mall.

As I was going for a sub-6 minute time, I headed up towards the front of the starting pen while my wife and daughter stayed closer to the back. At the 2016 event my daughter had set a personal best time of 12.11 which she wanted to beat this year.

At 12 o'clock on the dot, the air horn was sounded and we all headed of along The Mall with St. James' Park on our right hand side. I kept my pace relaxed but strong. The first 400 metres were a little congested as my sensible pace tied in with most other runners' 'run as fast as I can for 200 metres and then suffer the rest of the way around' pace.

By the time I reached the 400 metre mark, I had found some clear air and the timing clock showed 1.27 which was right about where I needed to be time-wise. Once past the 800 metre mark at 2.54 and turning onto Birdcage Walk there is a slight rise of elevation which slowed my pace a little.

With 400 metres to go the timing clock was on 4.27 and all that was left to do was maintain that pace and I successfully continued my sub-six minute streak with an official time of 5.57.

A few hundred metres down the road, my wife and daughter were making good progress and after a few minutes of loitering around the finish area, I spotted them heading towards me. The clock showing just over 12 minutes, but by the time the official chip times were confirmed it showed that my daughter had set a new mile personal best of 11.51.

With that all done, we had our timing chips removed, picked up our free lunch from Sweatshop, and collected our goodie bag and medal from the wonderful team of marshals that had made the day possible.

We didn't have much time to spare after the run as we had already arranged to head off to watch the Monaco Grand Prix with my brother (on the TV, we weren't actually jetting off to Monaco), so we shot straight off to do that. It had been another excellent morning at the Westminster Mile and I'm already looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Results page (with filters applied): Sweatshop Wave 1 Results

My Strava GPS file: Westminster Mile 2017

Related blogs:

Monday, 29 May 2017

Peacehaven parkrun

Just over a hundred years ago an entrepreneur named Charles Neville bought some land in the parish of Piddinghoe in East Sussex, and began to develop it into a town. This town was originally called 'New Anzac-on-Sea' and offered the opportunity for people to buy a fairly cheap plot of land and build on it themselves. In 1917 the town was renamed Peacehaven and by 1924 it was home to 3,000 people.

The town sits on the exact point where the Greenwich Prime Meridian passes through the south coast and this is marked by a 3.5m tall obelisk which was commissioned by Charles Neville and unveiled in 1936. Peacehaven is now home to around 14,000 people and although separate from it's neighbour Brighton, it forms part of the Brighton Kemptown parliamentary constituency.

peacehaven [photos: 7t]

There are a few links to TV and movies in the town - notably the scene at the end of Quadrophenia which was filmed atop the sea front cliffs and the scene in the very first Mr Bean TV show where he gets changed into his swimming trunks is filmed at the bottom of the cliffs.

In 2011 the 'Big Parks Project' was set up in order to improve recreation and leisure facilities using some land given to the town by Southern Water following the completion of the adjacent wastewater treatment works. The building has been cleverly blended into the landscape through the use of its green living roof. The roof covers 18,000m² and is one of the largest in Europe.

start [photos: dani]

After consultations with the local community it was established that residents wanted a place to play, walk, cycle and to meet their friends. Work on the new park began and on 15 April 2015 'Peacehaven Centenary Park' was officially opened by HRH The Duke of Gloucester.

The park borders the south downs national park and provides a gateway into the local countryside. It also features sports facilities, skate park, playground and a cafe called 'The Gateway'. On 20 May 2017 the park became home to Peacehaven parkrun - this is a free, weekly, 5km event that takes place every Saturday morning at 9am.

the course (east) [photos: official photographer / 7t]

We headed over to the park for Peacehaven parkrun's 2nd event. Free parking is available in the onsite car park, and if you are following road signs, look out for the brown ones with 'THE BIG PARK' and 'Centenary Park' on them. If travelling by train you'll need to head to Newhaven Town which is about 2 miles away and as I understand it, a number 12 bus will help you to complete your journey. Cyclists have two sets of bicycle racks to use at the venue - some in the car park and more outside the cafe.

The parkrun meeting point can be found just beyond the car park and if you need to use the toilet you will find the facilities next to the cafe - when we visited, the toilets were opened at about 8.45. The course consists of three anti-clockwise laps (not all identical) essentially using the perimetre of the park. Underfoot is a mixture of a pea shingle path and grass, and the terrain is gently undulating all the way around.

the course (north) [photos: official photographer / dani]

It all starts a stone's throw away from the cafe, and after the briefing the participants head off to the east for lap one - this is the longest of the three laps (1.8km) and features an extended section on grass at the most easterly end of the course. The second and third laps clock in at approximately 1.6km a piece which rounds it all up to a nice even 5km.

The park is fairly compact and you can almost see the entire course from the central grass area. Looking beyond the boundaries of the park you can see the rolling hills of the south downs, and they certainly provide a great backdrop to this event.

course (west) [photos: dani / 7t]

Anyway, after the opening eastbound section, the loop of the park see the runners heading back along the northern border of the park on a grassy section - I suspect that during the winter this could be on the muddy side, so shoe choice could prove to be a little tricky at that time of year - a light pair of trail shows might end up being quite useful here.

The final 700 metres of each lap has the runners back on the pea-shingle path taking in a long left-hand loop at the western end of the park. During this section, the runners pass the park's two brilliant playgrounds and then the brand new state-of-the-art skate park. The path then leads the runners back to the start point where subsequent laps start.

end of lap / end [photos: dani / 7t]

At the end of the third lap, the runners split off onto the grass outside the cafe and head for the finish funnel, collect a finish token and then have it scanned along with their personal barcode. During my visit the scanning took place right next to the finish line, and once that was done it was time to head straight over to the playgrounds where my daughter had been playing all morning.

After all that exercising and playing we would have had a drink and some breakfast in the venue's cafe, and while this one looked pretty decent, we had already made plans to head down the road into Brighton for some vegan fish and chips at 'The Loving Hut' at 'The Level' just like we had a few weeks earlier after our visit to Hove Promenade parkrun.

post-run playtime [photos: dani / 7t]

I recorded the run using my Garmin so if you want to see the course in detail please have a look at my GPS file on Strava: Peacehaven parkrun. While we were eating our lunch, my result came through and the full results page shows that 116 people had taken part in event number 2 which is a great number to be starting with. The venue is lovely and the course is challenging but still very runnable - a great balance and it's well worth swinging by sometime!

Link: Sussex parkrun venues

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Homewood parkrun (Ottershaw Memorial Fields)

I first visited Homewood parkrun when the event was based at its original venue, Homewood Park, in Chertsey. However, after only a few weeks at its original location, it was announced that the event would be permanently moving a mile down the road to a different park.

The blog for the original venue is here - blog7t: Homewood parkrun. By moving location, this venue became an oddity in my parkrunning record and as such became my 'Schrödinger's parkrun' - A parkrun that I had simultaneously visited AND not visited. It was time to open the box.

Despite moving to a new venue, the event has retained the name of its original park. I don't know if this has caused any confusion, but an update of the name would seem to fit in better with parkrun's event naming guidelines. Anyway, after finding a space in my parkrunning calendar, I headed over to check out the new venue, in Ottershaw.

ottershaw memorial fields

Ottershaw is a village in Runnymede district of Surrey. Although separate from its larger neighbour Chertsey, it still falls within the same postcode area. The village sits on what was originally heathland and over the years has been home to a number of small farms.

In the mid-19th century, the village began to be known by its current name which it took from the local country estate 'Ottershaw Park'. The owner of the estate at the time also gave the village one of its most notable landmarks, the Grade II listed, polychromatic style, 'Christ Church'.


The venue for this parkrun sits just to the north of the grounds of Ottershaw Park on the land formerly known as Potters Park or Potters Park Farm (at least, that's what I can make out from some old maps). A significant portion of the area is woodland but some of the land was formerly used as nurseries which supplied vegetables and flowers to the markets of London.

At some point between 1960 and 1973, the nurseries were developed into Ottershaw Memorial Fields and these are in memory of the people of Ottershaw who gave their lives during the second world war. If you look closely you'll find a couple of memorial plaques and a memorial garden. Also, the Ottershaw and Hamm Moor Cricket Club Pavilion is home to a memorial clock.

start and lap of field

The park consists of the main playing field which is primarily marked out for cricket but is sometimes changed to a football field, a tennis court, basketball court, bowls green, and children's playground. However, there is slightly more than meets the eye because the park extends into to adjacent woodland which includes Ether Hill.

We travelled over to the venue by car and had the option of parking in either of the park's two, free car parks. For anyone travelling by public transport, it's not quite so straight forward - the closest train stations are Chertsey and Addlestone which are both around 2 miles away from the venue. There are a couple of bus routes which stop within ten minutes of the venue, so they may be an option for some.

in the woods

Once in the park, there are toilets located adjacent to the car park next to the cricket pavilion. As the park consists mostly of a large open grass area, it is pretty easy to spot where the parkrun crowd are forming. The meeting point is on the grass in-between the two car parks and once the first timer's briefing has taken place (one of the best I've ever heard - delivered by Steve), the whole field gather for the main briefing. The run itself starts just next to the Fox Hills Road car park which is, unsurprisingly, adjacent to Fox Hills Road.

The course is made up of a partial clockwise lap of the playing fields, where the runners pass the bowls green and cricket pavilion on the eastern side of the park before the being sent off on an anti-clockwise three-lap roller coaster ride adjacent-to and through the woodland which covers and surrounds Ether Hill. Underfoot is a combination of grass and dirt (mud during the wetter seasons).

in the woods

It's not the ideal course for buggy running and I certainly wouldn't encourage less-confident or ill-prepared buggy runners to do so here. However, if you have a proper running buggy, are confident, and the occupant likes a bumpy ride then you'll get around the course - it won't be pretty, but it should be fun!

The first section of each lap is run on the grass adjacent to the woodland which has a very gentle incline leading into the woods themselves. Once inside the woods the ground underfoot changes to dirt paths which were pretty uneven, but manageable when I visited. There were plenty of arrows and marshals posted in the woods and the route was easy to follow.

in the woods

In the woods, the course undulates most of the way around. There is a notable incline early on each lap with one section being particularly steep which has been lovingly named 'Achilles Hill' - I imagine a fair percentage of the participants would be briefly reduced to a walk here. However it is fairly short and over quite quickly.

The woods are beautiful and the official course description says that there are wonderful views over the adjacent golf course, but I didn't get to see that because I was mostly looking down and trying to avoid the sheer number of tree roots lurking on the paths, just waiting for an innocent foot to grab hold of. I imagine that the risk of people tripping or twisting ankles here is fairly high, so if you are prone to face-planting, this might not be the best venue for you.

in the woods

I ran here in the early summer and everything was very dry and in these conditions road shoes would be ok. However, I wore my trail shoes and I was happy that this was the correct choice for me as the extra grip they gave through the woods was very welcome. If running here during the winter, I imagine it will take on the feel of a proper cross-country course bringing with it plenty of mud - trail shoes would be a must, but some people may even opt for cross-country spikes.

The second half of the lap features more tree roots than the first half, but has more of a downhill theme going on. At the end of each lap, the runners exit the woods and start the lap again. As the laps progress most people will either lap someone or be lapped themselves. With all the tree roots and some narrow paths it is important to listen to the marshals and keep an eye out for each other. With those points in mind, I would avoid wearing headphones here.

end of lap / exit woods

Once the three laps are complete, the runners emerge from the woods and head back around the playing field, past the pavilion and bowling green, before finally reaching the finish line which is adjacent to Fox Hills Road, but not quite back where it all started. Barcode scanning is taken care of right next to the finish line.

Anyone in desperate need of a post-run beverage can make use of the 'Eastwick Coffee Company' portable coffee van that will probably be parked up in the car park next to the bowling green. Those with a little more time or a need for a more substantial breakfast may choose to carry on to the Old School Cafe with the rest of the team.

back on the fields

With the run all done and dusted, I uploaded my GPS file of the course to Strava and you can view it here: Homewood parkrun 31 (Ottershaw Memorial Fields). The results for event #31 were processed a short while later and 115 people had taken part. I really enjoyed my run through the woods and I'd be interested to give it a go during the winter. A big thanks to all of the volunteers that made it possible and to my wife for making sure I had some extra photos for the blog.

Link: blog7t - The Surrey parkrun Venues

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Darent Valley 10k 2017

Every year since moving to Dartford, on a certain weekend during the spring, I get up nice and early, jump on the bike and cycle over to the Anthony Roper School in Eynsford for the Darent Valley 10k race. 2017 was the fourth year of doing this, but it very nearly didn't happen.

You see, I had been having some trouble with my ankle and held back on entering the race. However, on the morning of the 2017 race, I woke up and decided to cycle over to the race to support my friends that were running - at this point I definitely was not going to run.

[photo: 7t]

I arrived, headed into the school hall and found the rest of my Dartford Harriers running club members. I mentioned the troublesome ankle, chatted for a bit, and before I knew it I was queueing at the late entries desk with £15 in my hand to pay the on-the-day affiliated entry fee.

What I didn't mention was that before leaving home, I had packed my running kit in my backpack, so I had everything I needed to take part. This years race had a higher turnout than the previous years I had run and this was mostly down to the event moving to an early May date rather than mid-April which inevitably didn't fit into any London Marathon runners' diaries.

With my training being almost non-existent in the six weeks leading up to the event, I didn't have high hopes for my performance. My main goal was to get around the course without aggravating the ankle, however I had hopes that this year wouldn't be a new personal worst.

[photo: angela fathers]

I started the race from well back in the pack and took the first kilometre nice and easy. After that, I felt like increasing the pace so I started to push a little harder, but not quite at what I'd call race pace. Over the next few kilometres I filtered through the field and generally felt pretty good.

I had a slight pain in the left knee which was related to an unfortunate incident where I bashed it on my mum's kitchen table a few days earlier, however I pushed through it and it was generally fine. I took it easy through the off road section that passes along part of the Lullingstone parkrun course and it was soon time for the hardest part of the race, which is the long incline which leads up to the A225 road.

Once the incline ends, the final, slightly downhill 2.5km closing section begins. It's a little hairy as this section is run an a main road with not really any pavement available to run on. Still the last two kilometres are great fun and very fast. Before I knew it, I had arrived back at the Anthony Roper School and headed into the finish funnel.

[photo: 7t]

The medals at this race have quite a nostalgic feel to them and they always feature a scene from the local area. This year's medal featured a windmill and it looks great with my medals from 2014, 2015, and 2016. As for my overall performance, despite the lack of training and various niggles, I ran the race faster than I did the previous year, so that was pretty good!

Race stats:

Finishing time (chip): 43.58
Finishing position (by gun): 118 / 653

Full results: Darent Valley 10k 2017

GPS data: Strava - Darent Valley 10k 2017

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Hove Promenade parkrun

Hove is a town in the ceremonial county of East Sussex. As of 1997, it was merged with Brighton for local government purposes and in 2000 the borough of Brighton and Hove was granted city status by the Queen. With around 275,000 residents, it is the most populous seaside resort in England.

We (me, the ladies and Richey) headed down to Hove on the first weekend of May 2017 to finally visit Hove Promenade parkrun, which has been active since July 2015. Although I like going to Brighton and Hove for its sheer number of vegetarian/vegan restaurants and shops, the town is very busy and parking either difficult, expensive or both.

hove, actually

When we arrived, we parked in one of the pay and display spaces on Kingsway which is the seafront road that runs adjacent to Hove Promenade. It's worth noting that these spaces fall within the Brighton and Hove 'inner' parking zone and are pretty expensive. We had planned to have lunch in Brighton after the run and the parking cost £10.40 for the full day (thanks, richey).

If you were just staying for the run, you'd probably be alright with 1 hour at £2 or 2 hours at £4.20 - another option would be to park further to the west in the 'outer' zone where the fees are halved. The nearest free spaces I am aware of are over 2 kilometres away on the side streets adjacent the original Brighton and Hove parkrun.

start area

Had we travelled down by train, we would have headed for Hove station which is the closest of the options (1 mile away). Alternatively there is Brighton station (1.5 miles away). If you are fairly local, there are a large number of bus option that will get you within a five minute walk of the start. Cyclists can of course use the city's extensive network of cycle lanes to reach the venue. Toilets are available and they are located on the promenade about 100 metres west of the start-finish area.

The run itself starts on the promenade right next to The Lawns Cafe and this is also used as the post-run tea/coffee social venue - it only has outdoor seating so I imagine the numbers of people at the post-run gathering are largely dictated by the weather conditions.

the western section and turnaround

This parkrun features an out-and back style course, but the start-finish is right in the middle of the course rather than being at one end. Some people may refer to the course as 2 laps and that does make some sense. It is a flat course and the promenade is very wide. The runners are asked to keep to the southern half of the prom (the half closest to the sea) and the turnaround points are run anti-clockwise (left hand turns).

From the start, the participants simply head west past the colourful beach huts and after a 180 turn at the turnaround point, they head back to the east. In the distance it's now possible to see the ruined remains of the West Pier which was originally opened in 1866. It was the first pier to be given grade I status, but due to repeated fire and storm damage it has now been declared as 'beyond repair' by English Heritage.

heading eastwards

Participants will also spot the 162-metre-tall i360 observation tower - it is the world's first vertical cable car and the world's 'tallest moving observation tower'. As the name suggests, passengers (up to 200 at a time) on board have a 360 degree view of the surrounding areas including the Isle of Wight, Beachy Head and the south downs.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The runners continue past the start area and continue until reaching the eastern turnaround point, which is just a few metres away from the Angel of Peace statue which marks the Hove/Brighton boundary line. Both of the turnaround points are marked with cones and are accompanied by wonderful marshals.

the eastern end turnaround point

The halfway point is found back at the start-finish area, and all that is left to to is repeat the double out-and-back or, if you prefer, the second lap. It's then time to dive into the finish funnel, collect a token and have it scanned along with your personal barcode.

While out on the course, it's worth checking out Hove Lawns (aka Brunswick Lawns) which separate the Prom from the main road - they sit on an area of land which is protected by an Act passed in 1830 which states that no building may be erected south of Brunswick Terrace (which is just just across the road). The lawns have seen many interesting events such as the landing of a biplane in 1911 - you can find lots more information on the very interesting 'Hove in the Past' blog.

the second lap

With this being a seafront course, it does suffer from the effects of the wind. When we ran here, we had a head wind blowing from the east, which was hard-going running into, but we did take advantage of the tail wind when heading the opposite way!

One of the natural processes that takes place along the sealine is longshore drift, which means that pebbles and shingle can end up covering the promenade as they are moved around by the wind and sea. In extreme cases this could lead to the event being cancelled, so keep an eye on the event's news and social media pages if you are planning a visit.

heading towards the finish

The surface is fairly smooth tarmac (suitable for buggies and wheelchairs) and is nice and wide. Cycling is not allowed on the promenade as there are bespoke bike lanes adjacent to the main road, so there shouldn't be any issues with passing cyclists. However, I did see plenty of cyclists ignoring this while I was there, so keep an eye out just in case.

We visited the venue on 6 May 2017 at event #92. There were 286 participants and the results were processed a short while later. I recorded the course GPS data and you can view it in detail, right here - Strava: Hove Promenade parkrun.

A big thanks to the day's official photographer and to Dani for the running photos.

post-run fun

We had made our own post-run lunch plans so we headed off into Brighton to a vegan cafe called The Loving Hut which is located in a park called The Level. It was quite a walk from the parkrun venue, but so very worth it. I tried vegan fish and chips for the first time and was blown away by how amazing it was! We'd had another great day out in Brighton and Hove, and I have now run at all four of the city's parkrun venues.

My blogs from the full set of Brighton and Hove parkrun venues:

Brighton and Hove parkrun
Preston Park parkrun
Bevendean Down parkrun
Hove Promenade parkrun

Also, the full list of Sussex parkrun venues can be found here:

The Sussex parkrun venues

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